Posted on March 23, 2011
by Joshua Rabin
“Comfort, oh comfort My people, says your God, speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and declare to her that her term of service is over, that her iniquity is expiated; for she has received at the hand of the Lord double for all her sins” (Yishayahu 40:1-3).
This week’s Haftarah has us hear the ever famous lines from the prophet Yishayahu (Isaiah) of “nachamu ami,” that the people should be comforted in the midst of their exile from Yerushalayim. The Shabbat prior to Tisha B’Av, commemorating the destruction of the Beit Hamigdash and other tragic events in Jewish history, we read this Haftarah and the parsha hashavua, Va’etchanan, every single year. However, what is the connection between the haftarah, which speaks directly of the destruction of the Beit Hamigdash, and the parsha?
The name of the parsha comes from the shoresh “hithannen.” Midrash tells us that this verb means, “to throw oneself at the mercy of the other, to plead with no grounds to justify one’s request” (Etz Chaim Chumash). Moshe implores upon the bnei Yisrael that they should follow the mitzvot, and should remain faithful to God. As we have seen, however, from Jewish history in the various Haftarot, we did not live up to that command.
Moshe recognizes this in his speech to the bnei Yisrael, and tells them of the exiles they will suffer at the hands of other nations. His speaks of the terrible tragedies that will befall them, showing both the bitter and the sweet of his people’s future. Yet in spite of it all, Moshe reminds the people of this: “But if you search there for the Lord your God, you will find Him, if only you seek Him with all your heart and soul—when you are in distress between all these things have befallen you and, in the end, return to the Lord your God and obey Him” (Dvarim 4:29-30). Indeed, God is impassioned, and oftentimes zealous when necessary, yet God is also compassionate. The parsha tells us that, “He will not fail you nor will He let you perish; He will not forget the covenant which He made on oath with your fathers (Dvarim 4:31). God is in it ‘for the long haul,’ and will not forget his people.
Here we find the connection between all three of these events; the parsha, the haftarah, and the observance of Tisha B’Av. One of the worst tragedies in our history, the destruction Beit Hamigdash in 586 BCE and 70 CE, occurred and inflicted tragedy upon our people, yet they, if they chose to, could find God at any point. They would not be forgotten. And these words of the Torah ring in the ears of Yishayahu when he says “nachamu ami”; the people should be comforted, for they would not be forgotten. Indeed, this message reigns true today. A person, no matter what their situation, can return to a more meaningful Jewish life, with a stronger identity, no matter their circumstances. Each of has the chance to get back and remain on the right path, even when we are in the most dire of circumstances, for each of us is a piece of chain, and we are only stronger through each person joining others as a part of klal Yisrael. Shabbat Shalom.